Intractable contact disputes…

16th Feb 2018

A recent Judgement from HHJ Bellamy in Re J [2017] EWFC B103 concerning a child aged 7 confirms that more needs to be done to prevent one parent superseding the right of the child to have a relationship with both their parents. In this case the child had been the subject of litigation from birth. Allegations had been made by the mother against the father which were held to be unfound by HHJ Bellamy.


A Guardian and Solicitor were appointed by the Court to act on behalf of the child but to no avail against the implacable hostility of the mother, to contact.

HHJ Bellamy ordered a s.37 CA 1984 report by the Local Authority, to ascertain whether care proceedings should be brought as a result of the mother’s actions. The finding was that the child should be subject to a “Child in Need Plan”. The social worker had not read any of the Court’s Judgments nor the preliminary documents in reaching this decision. This was criticised by the Judge who lamented that subsequently in a 12 month period there were only 2 child in need meetings concerning the child.

The father sought to withdraw his application. Not because he wanted to or because he did not love his son but because he could not cope with the emotional trauma it was causing both him and his son. HHJ Bellamy and the Guardian attempted to resist this application. The mother went on to try to appeal the previous decisions of the Judge, refusing to accept that a relationship between the child and his father was in his best interests. The mother objected to the Judge’s previous comments below handed down in his Judgment on a finding of fact hearing:
“After careful reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I am satisfied on the simple balance of probabilities that the mother has emotionally abused J. In arriving at that conclusion, I have regard in particular to the frequency of the mother’s interrogations of J, to her video and audio recording of J and to her past unilateral decisions to withhold contact on a whim.”

Clear evidence exists that children whose parents separate do better as they grow up if they are able to maintain a positive relationship with both their parents. In order to assist the Court more research needs to be undertaken into the psychology of parents who prevent their children having positive relationships with both their parents, so that the level of emotional abuse can be quantified and used to balance the Court’s power to change with whom a child should live.

Where there has been abuse in a parent’s relationship the Court is mindful of the limitations this can place on a child’s contact with the other parent and Orders to ensure a positive relationship can be made. Contact can be supported, supervised, limited, indirect, and gradual for instance. More needs to be done to consider the psychological driving force behind a parent’s refusal to co-operate with Court Orders and to facilitate the best interests of the child.

In this case both parents were litigants in person. Undoubtedly this contributed to the length of the proceedings and the capacity for the mother to receive good legal advice. This is in turn has been harmful to the child in this case who had to be separately represented at public expense. The victim in the battle is J who will now grow up without the benefit of identifying himself through his father with whom he shares his closest biological links, other than his mother.

If you need help or advice in relations to your children or grandchildren please contact our Family Team on 01603 666001.